Kirk Behrendt, an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, had no idea what Loyalty Day was when he first moved to the suburbs.
The Aurora resident was riding his bike through Batavia in 2006 when he saw a kid carrying a tuba. Behrendt asked him where he was going, he said to a parade for veterans. Surprised, Behrendt followed and met the people whom, today, he likens to family.
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"It's beautiful that Batavia comes out and does this," Behrendt said after Sunday's Loyalty Day parade. "This sort of patriotism you don't see in many places."
Batavia's parade has been a staple in the community for almost 40 years. Close to 100 groups filed along the parade route, many of them tossing candy to excited children.
Athena Heath, 3, of Batavia, took a break from her scramble for sweets to salute the passing veterans, carrying American flags. Her mom, Betsy Heath, took advantage of the teaching moment, telling her daughter those soldiers fought so the rest of the people in this country could have what we do.
"Her grandpa is a veteran," Heath said. "I want her to know why they're fighting for us."
This was the first year the Heaths went to the Loyalty Day parade, and they're glad they did. With sunshine and a nice breeze, the weather was perfect for sitting on the curb or walking in the parade.
Jason Schindlbeck, 7, was kept from his first Loyalty Day parade as a Cub Scout last year when the event was canceled for the first time because of a storm. He said this year was fun and gave him the chance to throw candy to many of his friends in the crowd.
Schindlbeck's pack is sponsored by the Batavia VFW, which means the two organizations regularly work together. He and his family were enjoying the sunshine from a picnic table at the VFW building on South River Street where the parade ended. Hundreds of people stuck around after the marching to enjoy food, music and friends.
This year's parade theme, "The VFW Tree of Life," honored the long history of the organization, Post 1197 and everyone who has been a part of it.
"A lot of troops, when they come home, are at a loss for camaraderie," said Behrendt, the Aurora veteran, adding that it's nice to have people to ease the transition. "The VFW, it's a community. It's like a family."
Behrendt said the party would last all night for the VFW members, who take advantage of the chance to celebrate each other's service and welcome in new members to the family tree.